Under the Radar

Jack Ryan, Boxed

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Tom Clancy fans might be surprised to learn that all four movies based on his Jack Ryan character have been box office successes. With the upcoming release of a fifth movie (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) in January, The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger and The Sum of All Fears have been reissued in a new box set The Jack Ryan Collection.

Clancy's novels have always been about attention to detail and elaborate descriptions of the gear and technology, two traits that didn't really translate well into Hollywood movies. Jack Ryan might have been better served if HBO or AMC had been in the long-form series business back when the author made his first Hollywood deals.

Even if the movies aren't particularly true to the books, Jack Ryan did inspire a series of strong Hollywood action pictures. Three actors have played the role so far and each has been part of a different approach to bringing the novels to the screen.%embed1%

In The Hunt for Red October (1990), Alec Baldwin's take is to play Ryan as a weirdly irritating know-it-all who turns out to be right in his assessment of Sean Connery's intentions as a runaway Russian submarine commander and thereby prevents World War III. Director John McTiernan was fresh off Die Hard and Predator and the weird conceit of having the Russian characters alternate between subtitles and speaking English works better than you'd think.

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Harrison Ford takes over the role in Patriot Games (1992). He plays down the wonk factor and saves both his family and a British royal from IRA attack. For anyone who grew up post-9/11, it must be weird to realize that Hollywood considered the Irish the greatest potential terrorist threat on American soil.

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Ford is the only actor to play the role twice, repeating in Clear and Present Danger (1994). He becomes deputy director of the CIA, testifies before (and unwittingly lies to) Congress about how the U.S. is planning to use funds to fight drug lords in Colombia. Once he finds out he's been used by his superiors, Jack decides to expose the bad guys and take on the system.

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After a few years where they tried and failed to convince Ford to make a third movie, the producers hired Ben Affleck to take over the part in The Sum of All Fears (2002). Since Ben was quite a bit younger than Harrison, they rebooted the character to the beginning of his career and used the novel only as a very loose outline for the plot. There's a great commentary track on this disk where Tom Clancy joins director Phil Alden Robinson and calls him out for ignoring the book.

The Sum of All Fears was the first Hollywood terrorism movie released after 9/11. Once again, Jack was the only guy in the room who could recognize the truth. Even thought it was filmed before the attacks, the movie got a lot of criticism for poor timing. Even though it made money, Sum didn't make Ben Affleck a big action star and everyone decided to give the series a rest.

The new box set collects the 2008 Blu-ray releases of each movie and was timed to match the scheduled Christmas theatrical release of the latest reboot. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit got kicked into January to make room for Martin Scorsese, who didn't finish The Wolf of Wall Street in time for a scheduled October release.

Still, this one's here in time for Christmas and the movies are definitely worth the upgrade to Blu-ray if you're looking for a gift idea.

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Paramount will attempt tor revive the series with Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit. Since Chris Pine has already had success as Captain James T. Kirk in the J.J. Abrams Star Trek relaunch, the studio figured they'd give him a chance playing another iconic character. The new movie isn't actually based on a Clancy novel, so there should less concern about what Hollywood leaves out this time. Kenneth Branagh passed on making a second Thor movie to direct this one, maybe because he could also cast himself as a Russian bad guy.

At least some copies of the box set come with a sticker on the outside that promises a free ticket to Shadow Recruit. Watching (or rewatching) these movies is definitely a better use of your holiday down time than watching whatever random bowl games ESPN will be showing in the dead week betweens Christmas and New Year's Day.

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